My Ranking of the Top American Express Travel Credit Cards

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN, Platinum Card from American ExpressBusiness Platinum Card from American Express, and the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card (personal and business).

This is a post in my series ranking the top travel credit cards from the major banks. Other posts include: My Ranking of the Top 12 Chase Travel Credit Card Offers, My Ranking of the Top Citi Credit Card Offers, and My Ranking of the Top US Bank Travel Credit Cards.

Following my rankings of the Top Chase Travel Credit Cards and the Top Citi Credit Cards, I wanted to give readers my ranking of the Top American Express travel credit cards as well since, as the year comes to an end, the credit card market has really heated up with special offers and bonuses as the big banks compete for credit-worthy customers.

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Before I get to the cards themselves, here’s a bit of background on applying for American Express cards.

Charge Cards and Credit Cards
Amex is a little more flexible than the other two banks because they have two types of cards: charge cards (Platinum, Premier Rewards, Gold and Green), and credit cards (Blue Sky, Delta and Starwood). Charge cards often give bigger spending power, but require full payment every month or else you get hit with high fees and penalties. Credit cards generally have pre-set limits, but if you need to carry a balance, the cost is less (though still not a bargain). It is absolutely possible to have multiple cards—I personally have the Platinum, Premier Rewards Gold, Starwood and Starwood Business cards.  As with all card companies, however, American Express uses several factors to decide how many cards you can have at one time, and there are ways to work within the system so you get the ones that make the most sense for your points strategy. They are usually very up front with what you need to do to get a bonus- like not have that card or similar ones for 12 months. So it is possible to get bonuses on cards multiple times, but you generally have to have the account closed for at least a year, though there are always exceptions.

If you have a charge card, your available credit reported from that card will only be the highest amount your balance has ever gotten up to. This can have a temporary negative effect on your credit if you charge $10,000 and once your statement closes, it looks like you have $10,000 in available credit and you are using up 100% of it until the bill is reported as paid in full. So, with charge cards, it may benefit you to have a huge month and pay the bill off so it reports your available credit as a large number, and then continue to pay your bill off monthly then apply for a new card.

Also note that American Express now has a policy that each person can only have 4 credit cards, but there is no limit to the number of charge cards you can have.

Applying For Multiple Cards
Multiple credit inquiries affect your FICO score, and in its own words, FICO says “opening several credit accounts in a short period of time represents greater credit risk.” That’s because you’re applying for multiple lines of new credit rather than submitting several inquiries for a single new line, such as a mortgage.

That said, credit inquiries generally only cause a short-term 2-5 point hit on your overall credit, so the impact on your score from multiple inquiries is small since new credit counts only 10% toward determining your overall FICO score. So as long as you are strong in the other areas like payment history and amounts owed, you should be fine to apply for new cards. I personally wouldn’t recommend applying for multiple cards from the same bank within the same month (though you can usually get two cards the same day and have it only count as a single credit inquiry).

I would never advise anyone with less than healthy credit to apply for multiple cards at once. For one thing, you probably won’t get approved. But if your credit is healthy and you stay within each major bank’s guidelines for application timeframes, you can really start raking in points like I did this past August, raking in 110,000 points and two free hotel nights in a single day by applying for four cards.

A Lot of Choices – That’s a Good Thing!
Amex has a stellar line of travel credit card products and faces increasing competition from other banks – most notably Chase – so there are a lot of choices to consider. You should ask yourself whether you want the flexibility of transferrable Membership Rewards points, perks from co-branded cards like the Starwood or Delta cards, or the ability to redeem points at a fixed rate for travel or cash back.

Your valuations might differ from mine since very credit card product depends on what you spend money on and what you hope to use your points/miles for. These are my personal valuations, and I don’t have all of these cards myself, so if you have one (or several) that you use, please feel free to share your comments, especially if you have tips that can help other TPG readers learn to use these cards to maximize the points and miles they earn. My values are also on the conservative side, so  a lot of people should be able to get more than what I’ve outlined below – and I welcome your feedback on your own use of points.

Here are my rankings of the top American Express credit card offers of the moment, with rationale for each explained below:

1) Delta Reserve Personal and Business: Up to $3,100 in value
2) Platinum Delta SkyMiles Personal and Business: $1,820
3) Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum Card: $1,250
4) American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card: $936
5) The Platinum Card from American Express: $825
6) Gold Delta SkyMiles Personal or Business: $540
7) The Business Platinum Card: Current offer not valuable
8) Business Gold Rewards Card: Current offer not valuable
9) Hilton American Express: $526
10) Hilton HHonors Surpass Card: $646
11) Starwood Preferred Guest Personal and Business: $625
12) JetBlue Credit Card: $160

Also just a note: When making these calculations, I am not including the benchmark base spending of 1 mile/point per dollar spent, just anything above that, for instance getting 2 Delta miles per dollar spent on flights rather than just 1 mile per dollar on other purchases.

Note: Many of these are my affiliate links, but to the best of my knowledge I have highlighted the best offers out there.  If anyone knows of better public offers, please share them and I will update the post with them. As always, this is a free site, so I greatly appreciate it if you use my links.

RANKINGS

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Card: Delta Reserve Personal and Business
Type: Personal or Business
Current Bonus: 10,000 Medallion qualifying miles and 10,000 bonus miles with the first purchase.
Category Spending Bonuses: 2x Delta
Perks: Delta SkyClub access, up to 30,000 MQMs a year with spend (15,000 at $30,000 and another 15,000 at $60,000). Free checked bag for up to 8 people on your reservation, Priority Boarding and 20% In-Flight Savings, Save 3% to 10% automatically on business expenses from FedEx, Hertz, OfficeMax, and more with OPEN Savings, annual Reserve Companion Certificate for first/business (or economy) travel within the 48 contiguous United States.
Transfer Partners: None
Annual Fee: $450
Value Ranges: Delta sells MQMs for just about 10 cents each, so I’d value these at 7 cents, since there are ways to get them cheaper by flying, so $700 in value, plus the companion ticket yearly can save $500 on flights (or more) and the additional 30,000 MQMs are worth up to $2,100. SkyClub access sells for $450+, but conservatively valued at $250 since you can purchase day passes for $25 as a Delta Amex cardholder, so lets say you go to the lounge 10 times a year. Value range = $3,550 – $450 annual fee = value potentially up to $3,100.
Offer Expiration: None

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Card: Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express – Personal and Business
Type: Personal or Business
Current Bonus: Get 5,000Medallion Qualification Miles and 35,000 miles when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months and a $100 statement credit when you make your first Delta purchase within 3 months.
Category Spending Bonuses: 2x miles on Delta purchases, 1x on other purchases
Perks: First checked bag free for up to 8 people on your reservation, up to 20,000 MQMs a year (10,000 for $25,000 in annual spend, and another 10,000 MQM’s for $50,000 in annual spending), Priority Boarding and 20% In-Flight Savings, Save 3% to 10% automatically on business expenses from FedEx, Hertz, OfficeMax, and more with OPEN Savings,  annual Companion Certificate for one roundtrip economy ticket in the 48 contiguous United States.
Transfer Partners: None
Annual Fee: $150
Value Ranges: 20,000-30,000 SkyMiles sign-up is $280- $420, plus 20,000 MQMs at $1,400 and companion ticket conservatively at $150 = $1,970- $150 = $1,820
Offer Expiration: None

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Update: Beginning March 22, 2014, American Express Card Members will no longer have access to American Airlines Admiral Club and US Airways Club airport lounges through Airport Club Access / Airport Lounge Program. This means that Card Members will no longer be able to gain complimentary access to the American Airlines airport lounges (known as Admirals Club lounges) or the US Airways Club airport lounges as a benefit of their Platinum Card Membership. Cardmembers will continue to receive access to participating Delta Sky Club lounges, Priority Pass Select (enrollment is required), and Airspace lounges in JFK, CLE and BWI airports.

Card: Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum Card
Type: Personal Charge Card
Current Bonus: 50,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
Category Spending Bonuses: 5x points on eligible Mercedes-Benz purchases, 1x points on other purchases
Perks: Airport club access including; Delta Skyclub and US Airways Club, no foreign transaction fees, $200 annual airline credit, Global Entry $100 statement credit, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits, Priority Pass Select Membership for lounge access, automatic Starwood Gold Status, Premium Companion Ticket, $1,000 reward certificate towards the future purchase or lease of a new Mercedes-Benz and $100 towards Mercedes-Benz accessories.
Transfer Partners: Aeromexico, Aeroplan (Air Canada), Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific), British Airways, Delta, El Al, Air France KLM, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic; Best Western, Choice Privileges, Hilton HHonors, Starwood
Annual Fee: $475
Value Ranges: I value Amex MR at 1.8 cents a piece, so 50,000 points = $900. Lounge access really depends on how much you use it, but conservatively I’d put it at $350, plus $200 in airline credits, $100 Global Entry rebate, $75 for Starwood Gold and $100 a year in FHR benefits for a rough total of $1,525 – $475 annual fee = $1,250
Offer Expiration: None for the time being- it has been 50,000 since the card launched last year

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Card: American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
Type: Personal
Current Bonus: 25,000 points when you spend $2,000 in 3 months
Category Spending Bonuses: 3x on airfare, 2x on gasoline and supermarkets, 1x on all other purchases
Perks: Earn an additional 15,000 points when you spend $30,000 within one calendar year, use Pay With Points to book flights, cruises, hotels and vacations packages with no seat restrictions or blackout dates on americanexpress.com/travel
Transfer Partners: Aeromexico, Aeroplan (Air Canada), Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific), British Airways, Delta, El Al, Air France KLM, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic; Best Western, Choice Privileges, Hilton HHonors, Starwood
Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175
Value Ranges: 25,000 Membership Rewards points = $450, plus $500 a month in 2x/3x categories would net 6,000-12,000 bonus points ($108-$216) a year and if you can hit the $30,000 spend threshold, that is another 15,000 points ($270) = ~$936
Offer Expiration: None, though targeted and one-day bonuses have hit 50,000-75,000 points, so it might be worth waiting to get in on one of those.

Card: The Platinum Card from American Express
Type: Personal Charge Card
Current Bonus: 25,000 points when you spend $2,000 in 3 months
Category Spending Bonuses: None
Perks: Airport club access including; Delta Skyclub and US Airways Club, no foreign transaction fees, $200 annual airline credit, Global Entry $100 statement credit, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits, Priority Pass Select Membership for lounge access, automatic Starwood Gold Status, Premium Companion Ticket,
Transfer Partners: Aeromexico, Aeroplan (Air Canada), Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific), British Airways, Delta, El Al, Air France KLM, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic; Best Western, Choice Privileges, Hilton HHonors, Starwood
Annual Fee: $450
Value Ranges: I value Amex MR at 1.8 cents a piece, so 25,000 points = $450. Lounge access really depends on how much you use it, but conservatively I’d put it at $350, plus $200 in airline rebates, $100 Global Entry, $75 for Starwood Gold and $100 a year in FHR benefits for a rough total of $1,275 – $450 annual fee = value of about $825
Offer Expiration: None, though targeted offers for this card sometimes hit 50,000-100,000 points.

 

Card: Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express Personal or Business
Type: Personal or Business
Current Bonus: 30,000 miles when you spend $500 in 3 months for the Personal card or 30,000 miles when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months for the Business version and earn a $50 statement credit after your first Delta purchase for both cards.
Category Spending Bonuses: 2x points on Delta purchases,
Perks: Check your first bag free – for up to 8 people on your reservation – on every Delta flight, Priority Boarding and 20% In-Flight Savings, Save 3% to 10% automatically on business expenses from FedEx, Hertz, OfficeMax, and more with OPEN Savings,$99 companion pass upon account renewal.
Transfer Partners: None
Annual Fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95, no annual fee for additional cards
Value Ranges: I value SkyMiles at about 1.4 cents each, so 30,000 = $420 + Delta perks (bags/boarding) conservatively at $120 a year= $540
Offer Expiration: None, though there have been limited-time and targeted offers with higher bonuses.

Card: The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN
Type: Business Charge Card
Current Bonus: 25,000 when you spend $5,000 in 3 months
Category Spending Bonuses: None
Perks: Airport club access including; Delta Skyclub and US Airways Club, no foreign transaction fees, $200 annual airline credit, Global Entry $100 statement credit, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits, Priority Pass Select Membership for lounge access, automatic Starwood Gold Status, Premium Companion Ticket, 20% Travel Bonus when redeeming with Membership Rewards Pay with Points.
Transfer Partners: Aeromexico, Aeroplan (Air Canada), Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific), British Airways, Delta, El Al, Air France KLM, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic; Best Western, Choice Privileges, Hilton HHonors, Starwood
Annual Fee: $450
Value Ranges: The current offer is not valuable, so I would wait until you get a targeted offer or at least 25,000 points.
Offer Expiration: None, though targeted offers for this card sometimes hit 50,000-100,000 points.

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Card: Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
Type: Business
Current Bonus: 50,000 points when you spend $5,000 in 3 months
Category Spending Bonuses: 3x points on airfare, 2x points on purchases in the U.S. for advertising in select media, gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, and shipping, 1x points on other purchases.
Perks: use Pay With Points to book flights, cruises, hotels and vacations packages with no seat restrictions or blackout dates on americanexpress.com/travel
Transfer Partners: Aeromexico, Aeroplan (Air Canada), Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific), British Airways, Delta, El Al, Air France KLM, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic; Best Western, Choice Privileges, Hilton HHonors, Starwood
Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175.
Value Ranges: I would wait for another 50,000- 75,000 point offer to come up before applying for this card.
Offer Expiration: None, though targeted and one-day bonuses have hit 50,000-75,000 points, so it might be worth waiting to get in on one of those.

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Card: Hilton American Express
Type: Personal
Current Bonus: 50,000 points when you make $750 in 3 months. Update: The current offer is 40,000 points after $750 spent within the first 3 months.
Category Spending Bonuses: Earn 6 Hilton HHonors bonus points for every dollar of eligible purchases at any participating hotel within the Hilton HHonors portfolio of brands, at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets, at select major drugstores, on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, and for U.S. wireless and home telephone, cable TV and satellite TV service; Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of other eligible purchases.
Perks: Complimentary Hilton HHonors Silver status for life of membership, Hilton HHonors Gold status after $20,000 spending annually, GLON and AXON reduced rate awards
Transfer Partners: Numerous airlines including Delta, American, United and Brtitish Airways at pretty awful 10:1 ratio (100,000 Hilton = 10,000 airline miles).
Annual Fee: $0
Value Ranges:  I value Hilton points at .7 cents a piece (top tier 50,000 point hotels award nights are easily worth $350), so 50,000 points = $350 plus $500 a month in bonus categories means an additional 18,000 points a year ($126), Hilton Silver status at $50 = $526
Offer Expiration: Limited-time with no defined end date, but bonus likely to go back down to 40,000 at some point.

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Card: American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass Card
Type: Personal & Business Options
Current Bonus: 60,000 points: 40,000 with first purchase and 20,000 ore when you spend $3,000 within first 90 days.
Category Spending Bonuses: 12 HHonors points for every eligible dollar spend at participating Hilton brands, 6 HHonors points per dollar spent at gas stations, drugstores and more, 3 HHonors points per dollar charged on all other purchases.
Perks: Complimentary Hilton HHonors Gold status for the first year and Silver thereafter, Hilton HHonors Gold status with $20,000 annual spending, and Hilton HHonors Diamond status with $40,000 annual spending per calendar year, GLON and AXON reduced rate awards, Priority Pass lounge membership
Transfer Partners: Numerous airlines including Delta, American, United and Brtitish Airways at pretty awful 10:1 ratio (100,000 Hilton = 10,000 airline miles).
Annual Fee: $75
Value Ranges: I value Hilton points at .7 cents a piece so 60,000 points = $420 plus $500 a month in bonus categories means an additional 18,000 points a year ($126), Hilton Gold status at $100 = $646
Offer Expiration: None

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Card: Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express
Type: Personal
Current Bonus: 25,000 Starpoints with $3,000 spend in the first 3 months of Cardmembership
Category Spending Bonuses: 2x points on Starwood purchases, 1x on other purchases.
Perks: Get 5,000 bonus Starpoints when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to a frequent flyer program with more than 30 airlines; 2 stays/5 nights credit toward elite status qualification.
Transfer Partners: 30 airlines
Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65
Value Ranges: I value Starpoints at 2.1 cents each, so 25,000 = $525, the 2 stay/5 night elite qualification is easily worth $100 for a value of $625
Offer Expiration: None, though hopefully the bonus will go back up to 30,000 points at some point in 2013.

Card: JetBlue Credit Card
Type: Personal
Current Bonus: 20,000 TrueBlue points after you spend $1,000 in 3 months.
Category Spending Bonuses: 2 points per $1 on JetBlue purchases, 1 TrueBlue point per dollar for other eligible purchases
Perks: None
Transfer Partners: None
Annual Fee: $40
Value Ranges: Points are worth about a cent a piece when redeeming for flights, so $200 – $40 annual fee = $160.
Offer Expiration: None – the offer ranges between 10,000-20,000 points consistently.

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